The historic city of Richmond on Staten Island discovers an early American portrait – 50 years after it was stolen


More than half a century after it was stolen, an early American portrait will soon be back in its rightful place at Staten Island Historic city of Richmond.

Almost 52 years ago, on November 9, 1970, a cleaner from what was then the Richmondtown Restoration showed up to find the museum had been robbed. Someone had broken in through a basement window and stolen a number of artifacts, including two 1834 portraits by the artist of husband and wife Ann and John Totten John Bradley.

The other two paintings stolen were a portrait of a young girl named Christine Kip Hopper and a woman identified as Marion (Bruce) Price. The burglar also made off with three watches, a selection of silver shoe buckles and jewelry, and a range of historic plates and glassware from England and Asia.

In addition, the thief targeted a selection of religious artifacts on long-term loan from the Church of St. Andrew on Staten Island: a silver chalice and paten that were gifts from Queen Anne of England in 1713, and two collection plates that the English architect Henry Holland presented in 1774.

Historic city of Richmond. Photo courtesy of Historic City of Richmond.

At the time, the total value of the stolen art was said to be around $25,000.

“Whoever broke in,” said Marjorie C. Kerr, the museum’s curator New York Times at the time “must have studied the inside pretty well, for they seem to have been systematic in robbing what they wanted.”

The Tottens, ancestors of double figure skating gold medalist Dick Button, were part of a notable family on Staten Island, and Ann was an original daughter of the American Revolution. (The Tottenville neighborhood is named in their honor.)

The robbery received considerable media attention, and Button even offered a reward for the return of the paintings. He was partially successful.

In June 1971, police located all of the portraits except Ann’s, the goblet and collection plates, and five other stolen items from the Brooklyn home of a 23-year-old man named Billy Joe Redman. But after that, the case went cold, and the painting by Ann Totten was still free.

Historic city of Richmond.  Photo courtesy of Historic City of Richmond.

Historic city of Richmond. Photo courtesy of Historic City of Richmond.

Then, in October 2021, Historic Richmond Town received a landmark email. Gordon Fine, a folk art collector in the Bay Area, had discovered a portrait that was offered at Michaan’s auction house in Alameda. He had visited the museum several years ago and recalled seeing John Totten’s portrait and a wall text declaring that the matching depiction of his wife had been stolen. Could this be the same work, he wondered?

“Connecting the dots is so wild,” said Jessica B. Phillips, CEO of Historic Richmond Town New York Post.

The museum went into action, working with the FBI’s Art Crime Unit and local California police to learn more about the painting. Thanks to museum access records and original documents from the time of the theft, the authorities were able to confirm its authenticity.

Gregory Gromadzki, a retired art conservator from San Francisco Image restoration studiohad turned in the work that a customer brought him for a $500 repair in the 1990s.

“It was badly damaged. There was a big, big tear through the image of the lady in her face,” he said post. “So we fixed it and tried to give them the painting back. They said: ‘Yes, yes, yes, we’ll pick up the painting.’ You have not contacted us. Eventually they disappeared altogether.”

After more than 20 years, Gromadzki decided it was time to put the abandoned work up for auction — but upon learning of its checkered past, he was more than happy to turn the painting over to the FBI and return it to Historic Richmond Town for free . Ann will finally be reunited with her husband sometime in April.

“It’s rare for stolen artwork to be returned, especially after 50 years,” Phillips said in a expression. “Historic Richmond Town is deeply grateful for Good Samaritans like Mr. Fine and Mr. Gromadski who were instrumental in restoring this local treasure. We’re really pleased to have done a better job of completing the cold case of the Ann Totten portrait.”

This is the second time this year that a New York history society has witnessed the return of portraits 50 years after they were stolen return a pair of paintings to Historical Huguenot Street at New Paltz in June.

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